Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards History
During the past 56 years, NYU Langone’s Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards has made many fundamental contributions to environmental health sciences (EHS), particularly regarding the effects of air pollution and heavy metals, and contributed substantial epigenetic insights into mechanisms underlying carcinogenesis.
Dr. Merrill Eisenbud and Dr. Norton Nelson, eminent members of our National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Center, were instrumental in translating early fundamental EHS research into the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Dr. Nelson also helped found the NIEHS and initiated its Superfund grant program.
Our center was the first to respond to the World Trade Center disaster, collecting dust samples the day after the collapse. These efforts set the foundation for some of the earliest intercenter collaborations with Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, NYU Grossman School of Medicine, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and the University of Rochester to study the human health impacts of the disaster.
With a history of more than 50 years of funding, our center’s accomplishments have been outstanding, and we will remain at the forefront of environmental health sciences research in the future.
We have made numerous outstanding and innovative research advances and discoveries. The role of phorbol esters in carcinogenesis was first described at our center by Dr. Benjamin Van Duuren. Dr. Krystyna Frenkel was the first to show that formaldehyde irreversibly binds to DNA, well before it was accepted as a human carcinogen.
Our center pioneered the field of inhalation toxicology and lung carcinogenesis under the early leadership of Dr. Sidney Laskin and Dr. Marvin Kuschner. Moreover, Dr. Morton Lippmann’s field studies of healthy children and adults engaged in normal outdoor active recreation showed that ozone in ambient air at concentrations as low as 60 ppb is detrimental to lung function.
In the area of carcinogenesis, Dr. Catherine G. Klein and Dr. Max Costa discovered a novel epigenetic mechanism for nickel carcinogenesis, which now appears to be more generally applicable to other epigenetic carcinogens. Specifically, nickel was found to inactivate senescence and induce immortality by inducing de novo 5-cytosine methylation in DNA. This caused an alteration in the program of gene expression that was inherited in all subsequent cell generations. This was the first study showing that a chemical carcinogen could inactivate a senescence and tumor suppressor gene by inducing de novo DNA methylation and offered an alternative mechanism to the mutational hypothesis of cancer causation. Today, it is known that many human cancers have tumor suppressor genes inactivated by DNA methylation, and epigenetic gene silencing is emerging as a mechanism that underlies human diseases besides cancer.
Center researchers with pulmonary toxicology expertise have conducted numerous studies related to 9/11. Today, center member Dr. Joan Reibman continues to provide healthcare and outreach to those impacted by 9/11. Dr. Leonardo Trasande has completed studies of childhood exposure to dioxins and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, as well as psychological consequences of the events of 9/11. He is now actively collaborating with investigators from the Columbia University NIEHS Center to examine the effects of prenatal exposure.